Tag Archives: Narnia

K is for Knowing

I talked about Epistemology, the discussion of How We Know Things, previously in this blog. This is a twist on that discussion provoked by some recent reading.

The recent reading provocation came from a book called Planet Narnia by Michael Ward. In this book Ward convincingly argues that C.S. Lewis wrote each of the seven Chronicles of Narnia to represent or embody the character associated with the seven planets of the Ptolemic astronomical system followed in the Middle Ages. Lewis describes this system in The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Ward argues that the Narnia books then embody the images of the planets, so that, for example, the Jovian character is embodied by The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When we read The Discarded Image we contemplate the medieval world system; when we read Narnia we enjoy it.

Lewis distinguished between knowing a thing by contemplating it, and knowing a thing by enjoying it. In what has become a famous example, Lewis talked about a light beam seen in a dark toolshed: the beam can be seen and contemplated from outside itself, or can be enjoyed by standing within the beam and seeing other things by its light. Light is difficult to describe when one is enjoying it. Everything else is illuminated by it – it pervades our understanding of everything around it. We contemplate something from outside; we enjoy it from inside.

I found an example of the difference between knowing about something and experiencing it in 1 Kings the other day. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon, and after she had been given the royal tour and conversed with the king, she said “It’s all true! Your reputation for accomplishment and wisdom that reached all the way to my country is confirmed. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself; they didn’t exaggerate! Such wisdom and elegance—far more than I could ever have imagined.” She’d heard reports, but these reports were nothing compared to the experience of being in Solomon’s courts and conversing with him.

Then I got to wondering if one’s worldview (often cultural) is an example of things we enjoy first, and contemplate later. We are immersed in our view of the world. It pervades the way we understand everything. It includes attitudes toward others that are often described by –isms: ageism, racism, sexism. We see from the outside other worldviews or cultures, and contemplate them. It is fairly easy to poke holes in the things seen from a distance, from outside. It is much harder to see the faults in things we enjoy from the inside. It is also difficult to listen to others criticize our worldview or culture, the lights we see by. I wonder if we need both to learn to step outside and contemplate our own thought-system, and also figure out how to get inside and enjoy another. Lewis thought one way of doing this was reading literature. I think he may have been onto something there.


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FIVE Non-Fiction Books!

(Sing the title to the Five line of the 12 Days of Christmas. Ok, it doesn’t quite fit perfectly, but that’s what’s in my head.)

I mentioned in my 4 reasons for not posting for a while that I went on a road trip last month. I listened to two non-fiction audio-books on the road, one for the way there, and one for the way back. Let me tell you about those two books and three other non-fiction books that I read after that road trip.

  1. Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science, and Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe by Thomas Cahill. I’ve read Cahill before. I quite enjoyed his How the Irish Saved Civilization in the “Hinges of History” series. This book also fits into that series. I’m afraid I didn’t find Mysteries as well argued as How the Irish. I read the Irish book and came away convinced of the importance of the Irish monks in preserving historical documents in the early Middle Ages. Mysteries I found over-ambitious in its reach and without a clear-cut argument. I think Cahill was trying to show that good things came out of the Medieval Catholic Church, but I didn’t need convincing of that. He also elevated the expression “vox populi, vox deus” to scriptural status, which I find unwarranted. I am pretty sure that the vox populi can be misguided. Witness Rob Ford. The book contains interesting stories about interesting people, but its overall argument is not strong.
  2. The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. I rather enjoyed this tale of murder and death in New York City, despite the general sense that it is in essence a tract on the evils of prohibition. Besides railing on the US Government and its misguided prohibition amendment, the book tells the story of NY City’s first medical examiner and his colleague, who developed the field of forensic toxicology. It is pretty interesting stuff. You should read it. Or listen to it.
  3. The Lion’s World by Rowan Williams. This is Rowan Williams’s reflection on Narnia. Reading this short book made me want to read all the Narnia books again. I am still not convinced that one should read the Narnian books in chronological order as Williams suggests (and yes, I know Lewis suggested it too) but Williams did give me different ways of looking at some parts of the books that I’ve never really liked, including seeing the value of The Last Battle, my least favourite book in the series.
  4. Time’s Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination by Richard Morris. This is a fascinating book. I read it over a very long time, more than six months, and it talks about understanding the data of archaeology in different ways, so that the past can be accurately heard in the data. I thought about finding Richard III a lot when I read the chapter on digging up battles and seeing that the story told by the remains doesn’t match the written historical record. The aerial survey photos and the writing about new techniques in archaeology are extremely interesting.
  5. Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. I’d not read this particular Lewis book before. I found his reflection on Praise the best part of the book. It is a nice short book, and easy to access.

What non-fiction books are you reading?

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Narnia, the happy land of Narnia

I’ve spent many hours in the happy land of Narnia (as Bree, the horse calls his home). I’ve done a bit of a search around this blog and found that I’ve listed two different Narnia books as my favourite of the Chronicles of Narnia. Oops. In one place I said The Horse and His Boyand in another, The Silver Chair. Hmm. Guess I’d better make up my mind.

Here is the order in which I favour the Narnia books, with reasons:

  1. The Horse and His Boy. It was the first Narnia book I ever read. I was 7. It also appeals to me on many levels. As a friend of mine put it when I asked about favourite Chronicle of Narnia on facebook: “Talking horses, finding your real family and home, the glimpse of grownup golden age Pevensies.” What more could anyone ask for? Plus I was 7 and the whole finding one’s biological family without really looking appealed to me. I ended up having to look. Oh well.
  2. The Silver Chair. I love the quest in this book, plus Puddleglum. He’s my favourite character in the series. Plus there’s something about the signs, and the many ways Aslan shows up that I find appealing in this book.
  3. The Magician’s Nephew. It is the creation scene with the lion singing that gets me every time. I’ve grown in appreciation for this book over time. I also like the prequel aspect of the book, you get the deep background of the Lamp Post (for example) and other things.
  4. 5. and 6. I never read these ones separately so they all run together in my mind: The Lion, The Witch, and the WardrobePrince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Favourite scenes: Father Christmas; when Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy figure out where they are; Edmund the dragon.

And finally, 7. The Last Battle. I have grown in appreciation for this one over time, but I like it least because things end in it. But the last chapter with farther up and farther in is pretty awesome.

What about you? Which is your favourite? (Vote!)

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Literary Dinner Parties

I ran out of questions I thought were interesting on the Big List I was working through, so I made up my own — and I asked my reading friends on fb which literary character(s) they’d invite for dinner, and what they’d serve. I’ve got three Literary Dinners in mind — only one would fit into my apartment at the moment. I’d have to find other space for the other two.

Dinner for me and three guests at my apartment:

Guests: Harriet Vane (Lady Peter Wimsey), Ginny Weasley Potter, and Bridget Jones.

Menu: Turkey Curry and Chocolate Mousse for afters.

The Friends of Narnia Dinner:

Guests: Digory, Polly, Peter, Susan (I’d invite her, though she might refuse), Edmund, Lucy, Eustace, and Jill

Menu: Beef Stew, red wine, with fruit sorbet and cheese for afters. No Turkish Delight allowed.

The Detective Club:

Guests: Peter Wimsey, Adam Dalgliesh, Alan Banks, Fiona Cameron, Rev. Clare Fergusson, and Amelia Peabody

Menu: Mystery Something. Possibly a Mystery Dinner with food that looks like something else. Mashed Potato sundae anyone?

Who would you invite for your dinner party? What would you serve?


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Prose Plus Poetry

Yesterday when I noted that there were yet 19 days to write and post poems in April a friend expressed some dismay. I realize that the pile of poetical posts have not been to everyone’s taste, so for Friday, some prose, then a brief poem. For those of you following the poetry, some of those that have so far appeared have been influenced by my current reading.

Today I had coffee with my friend the Foodie Theologian. He listens to audiobooks while driving a food delivery truck for one of his jobs. We talked about the fact that some books are well written AND well read, and the convergence of the two is serendipitous. I also found a blog post that talks about well-read audio books. I’ve been enjoying some Jane Austen read well, and have just finished listening to The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis, read by Jeremy Northam. Actually, the notes on the recording say PEFORMED by Jeremy Northam. This is a better word than read. I really enjoyed listening to Narnia as read by Northam. His timing, the grumbling tone and accent of Puddleglum, plus his interpretation of the earthmen were all fantastic. I’d highly recommend you find and listen to this recording. I got it via the public library. It is the inspiration for this evening’s poem.

The Silver Chair is

my favourite Narnia

book. Do you have one?

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D is for —

The Letter

happily brings you today’s post.

Obviously, D is for Dragon. Just look at the Dragon lurking in the letter.

Last week I mentioned that dragons were a theme of my 2011 reading. Dragons are a general theme in my reading. I like books about dragons. If I am reading a book and a dragon shows up, that raises the book in my estimation. For example, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has dragon’s eggs AND dragons. This was a lovely surprise when I first read the books. I read Eragon because it had dragons. I’ve got a picture book that I’ve had for a long, long time called Sir Kevin of Devon which features a dragon. I’m pretty sure I liked the book because of the dragon. In the Narnia books, Eustace gets turned into a dragon in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This is my favourite part of that book. (The movie ruined it entirely, bad theology, too much dragon.)

If I know a book has a dragon, I’m on it. I just finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. D is definitely for Dragon.

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Blast from the Past: The Chronicles of Narnia

Yesterday I wondered if my preference for UK mystery writers stemmed from an early taste for the mysteries of Enid Blyton. The same year I discovered Blyton and the Famous Five etc. I also read a book in the Narnia Chronicles. I was hooked. Completely hooked. I didn’t get the whole set at once — I was given one book at a time, in no particular order that I can remember. The first book I read in the Narnia series was The Horse and His Boy. I loved it. It is still my favourite of the Narnia books. (Here my friends the Playwright and the Norwegian would insert their horror at this being my favourite and all the ways this is a politically incorrect selection.) I read the copy I got when I was seven until it was in tatters. I searched for a new copy with the same blue cover, but sadly had to settle for a newer cover with a different picture on the front.

My second favourite in the Narnia series is The Silver Chair. (Insert more distaste from the Norwegian who prefers The Dawn Treader.) That one also fell apart and the newer copy is from the same set as my newer copy of The Horse and His Boy. One reason I dislike the trendier covers is the numbers are incorrect. I read the books in publication order, not in Narnia-chronology order. I feel that reading The Magician’s Nephew first violates the writing process somehow. That book is clearly a prequel, written after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — and the references to the Narnian world in The Magician’s Nephew are made with the earlier-written book in mind. I realize that C.S. Lewis approved the Narnia-chronology order in his letters to his readers, but I still prefer publication order.

One reason I loved the Narnia books was – and is – the imaginary world that Lewis created. I loved the details including the maps and the fantastic illustrations by Pauline Baynes. This was escapist reading of a new kind — I got to go to a completely different world! Yup, I’m still hooked on fantasy. But more of that tomorrow.

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